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Photo by James Broscheid
When Bambi and Cole Browning started writing the songs that would be become Reptaliens’ 2017 debut LP, FM-2030 (Captured Tracks), they had no intention of starting a band. Focusing at first on creating music and art on a purely personal level, the project soon took off when the duo brought on Julian Kowalski (guitar) and Tyler Verigin (drums) to form a live band. The four piece swiftly delved into songwriting inspired by sci-fi art and literature, cult mentalities, and deep connections. The result was the band’s self defined genre of “dreamwave,” which connected musical influences ranging from Gary Wilson inspired jazzy lounge music, the warmth of Broadcast’s recording production, to Todd Rundgren’s outer space synth sounds.
After touring throughout most of 2017 and 2018 with STRFKR, Cults, and Of Montreal, the band returned home and went straight into renowned Portland studio Jackpot to record their sophomore LP VALIS. Titled after the 1981 Philip K. Dick novel, VALIS is a cohesive collection of songs unified in sound and structure and supported by recurring lyrical themes. Reptaliens wanted to recreate the warmth of something personal and familiar, while also providing the listener with the room to create a unique and personal relationship with the music. This duality can be found in the constructs, themes, and imagery portrayed through vocalist and bassist Bambi’s lyrical concepts. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of friendly and lighthearted pop hooks and melodies, Bambi engages her audience through motifs of loneliness, longing, abduction, isolation, and change as well as love and personal connection.
Musically, VALIS remains consistent with Reptaliens’ sound: 80’s analog synthesizers, tape delay echoes, and a dreamy blend of guitar lines which ebb and flow throughout Bambi’s melodies. The songs are phantasmagoric, recorded with their signature lofi simplistic production. However, Reptaliens work from a different perspective here, instead opting for a sparse and airy atmosphere which places equal importance on the space between notes as the chord progressions themselves. Tracks like “Shuggie II” and “Sunrise, Sunset” are breezy and minimal, resulting in an intimate and personal atmosphere in which the listener can ruminate. This more minimalist approach culminates with the album ender “Heather,” a stripped down guitar track where Bambi laments the recent loss of a friend to suicide. The dynamism of VALIS comes from a balance between the band’s more introspective tracks with kinetic synth pop songs such as “Echo Park” and “Give Me Your Love” and the upbeat guitar driven tracks “Venetian Blinds” and “Baby Come Home.”
With VALIS, Reptaliens divulged tales from an etic: outsiders perspective of cult kidnappings, alien abductions, and scifi speculations towards potential future realities. In VALIS, the lense is turned inwards and, through the looking glass, the 12 tracks provides an emic glimpse towards the feelings and situations of the subjective experience. Thanks to Rebecca Jones with MOTORMOUTHMEDIA for coordination and to Cole for taking time out of a busy schedule.
James Broscheid: Congrats on the new album! Did you alter your approach to writing/recording this record when compared to your debut, ‘FM-2030’? Is there more input from everyone now?
Cole Browning: As far as songwriting goes, we approached this one pretty much the same way actually. Bambi and I start with a rough outline or basic chord progression and then bring them to each other and we work out the fine details together. The live band records everything together and the other guys get to add their own flair but, for the most part, we bring the complete songs to the rest of the guys.
JB: I caught the band’s show in Tucson (first time seeing you!), and thought it was delightfully weird and fun! Can you explain the bands fascination with conspiracy theories and sci-fi? Also, what have been some of your favorite conspiracies throughout the years and what do you think of followers of various theories being given more of a voice in recent times? At least to me, it seems it is coming up more and more in the media. Either way, it was great seeing it all tied into your live show!
Cole: We’ve been getting really into flat Earth stuff recently. There are some pretty wild Youtube rabbit holes you can go down which are really fun. We read a lot of science fiction and are super into shows like X-files and Twin Peaks so a lot of inspiration comes from media like that as well. Cult mentality is also a pretty big reoccurring theme. We use a lot of samples from the Heaven’s Gate recruitment tapes in the live show as well.
JB: I understand the band’s formation was spear-headed by you and Bambi after playing in another band together. What prompted the decision to get together in the first place and go in a different direction? Is it challenging to be in a relationship AND a band together?
Cole: We wrote and recorded the song that would become “Forced Entry“ one day, just for fun, and put it up on Soundcloud before we had a band name or a live band or any real desire to start Reptaliens. The internet kind of went wild with it and hit like 80,000 plays super fast. We had no idea any of this would happen but when it did, we just ran with it and were like: Welp, I guess we’re doing this now! Being in a relationship and a band is super helpful and fun. But also, the band has seeped its way into every part of our life. We just are Reptaliens now. We live this with everything we do.
JB: Traditionally bands tour after their record is released and I think Reptaliens have proven they are not a traditional band! Why hit the road before the album’s release? Will the band head back out after this round of touring (Spring 2019) is completed?
Cole: We wanted to do a pre-album release tour to build awareness and hype. Also, we really wanted to do SXSW this year and it didn’t time out with the release so we just hit the road anyways. We were on our VALIS tour with Turnover and Turnstile and it went great. It was super fun to play the new songs live.
JB: One other band I love is inspired by the occult, sci-fi and conspiracy theories in Drab Majesty. That band takes a more pokerfaced approach towards the subject matter (like Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven Gate, etc.), whereas Reptaliens seem to have more fun with it. Is it easy to not get too carried away with such subjective topics like religion for example? Some think its insanity while others take a more “who’s to say it isn’t true?“ approach.
Cole: Ah I love Drab Majesty! So good. Yeah, we definitely have a tongue in cheek approach to some pretty heavy topics but that’s just the way we are. I think we’ve found a balance between being serious but not too serious. We also have a lot of lyrical content that doesn’t have anything to do with conspiracy theories and cults. There are love songs too.
JB: I love the band’s psychedelic, analog synths and simple but effective guitar work and weird echo delays. I thought of everything ranging from *Stereolab*/Broadcast to ’70s-‘80s adult contemporary radio when I first heard VALIS! Who are some of the band’s biggest influences? Anything in particular you were listening to in the lead up to recording the new record that you thought would translate well towards what you wanted to accomplish on this album?
Cole: The influence of Broadcast is definitely there. Bambi also draws a lot from Curtis Mayfield and Gary Wilson. I borrowed some recording techniques from Anika, especially when it comes to dub delays, space within songs, and minimal melodies.
JB: Captured Tracks is the epicenter for independent music on the East coast. How has their support been and how did that relationship first come together? Does everyone still have day jobs?
Cole: Captured Tracks is amazing. They are the best, sweetest people and have been super fun to work with. They pretty much let us do whatever we want which is great. I still listen to every band on the roster and am constantly stoked that we get to call these bands label mates. It still seems so unreal! Before signing us, they flew out to Portland, OR to see us play live. We were so nervous for that show – oh my god. But we all get along really well. I wouldn’t want to work with any other label. We love them so much!
JB: How did Julian and Tyler come into the fold? Was it an easy integration at first seeing that you and Bambi had really no intention of starting a band initially?
Cole: After writing “Forced Entry“ and deciding to create Reptaliens, we knew that we needed some band mates in order to start playing live. Julian was the first choice for guitar and I was super happy when he said yes. I used to drum in Reptaliens for the first couple shows but wanted to switch to playing synthesizers. Tyler and I were hanging out at Pickathon and I asked him and he said yes right away. It’s a great band to tour with because we are all friends and hang out all the time when we are not doing music. We’re a family.
JB: I understand the record’s title was inspired by Philip K. Dick’s 1981 novel of the same name. Can you share some of your favorite sci-fi authors and stories?
Cole: PKD is definitely our favorite sci-fi author. I also really like Murakami and draw a lot of inspiration from him.
JB: How important is it to have the performance element to your live show? Sure it is fun and surreal but, is there any deeper meaning to those performances and/or what does your live show say about who the band is as a whole? Pretty wild either way!
Cole: It’s mostly just another fun way to have a creative outlet. We get to design and create costumes and characters and build up our strange surreal world. I always want to have a performance aspect to the live show. Even your favorite band can get boring after watching four people just stand there and play instruments for 45 minutes. We want to entertain and really create an experience.
JB: In an earlier interview for the band’s first album, Bambi mentioned her writings being about her’s or other people’s obsessions. Obsessive behaviors can get pretty dark at times. Is it an easy process to go through when writing or is it more therapeutic / self-assuring? The band’s melodies are more dreamy so it can be difficult to ascertain darker lyrical content. What is the darkest or most difficult song you’ve written to date?
Cole: Bambi definitely gets obsessed with ideas and concepts and feelings. She kind of has a method actor approach to writing songs. She’ll get super into whatever she’s writing and then move on to the next thing. She seems like she has a pretty easy time knocking out great lyrics and songs. The juxtaposition between sweet sounding music and dark lyrics is intentional. It’s just another way we can tap into the strange and uncomfortable space that we enjoy so much. Just like the reality we live in, it is both beautiful and scary and things are not often what they seem.
“Heather” is definitely the most difficult song. It’s for our friend Heather who took her life last year. She was a friend and shot our first press photos. There’s sadness in everything but there is also hope everywhere you look. It’s similar to how we connect the dark aspects of life with the beauty of art and music. I’m not sure if you can even really have one without the other. If you’re contemplating suicide please reach out to us or anyone or give the suicide hotline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255), a call. Be safe, be good to yourselves and others. We love you all very much!
Upcoming Tour Dates:
6/20/2019 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
8/2 – 8/4/2019 – Pendarvis Farm – Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon
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